NHS technology revolution is stuck 'in a state of paralysis'

Author: Ingrid Torjesen

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NHS digital leaders are deserting the NHS for the private sector because of the difficulties of attempting to realise centrally-imposed slogans such as “axe the fax” and “purge the pager” without dedicated funds, a departing IT chief has warned.

Improving digital innovation in the health service is a central plank of the organisation’s 10-year plan announced in January. However, recent months have seen the departure of several key leaders to the private sector, such as NHS England’s chief digital officer Juliet Bauer, as well as chief information officers at Royal Brompton & Harefield and South London & Maudsley trusts, and senior staff at NHS Digital.

Writing in The Telegraph, Richard Corbridge, who recently left his post as chief digital and information officer at Leeds teaching hospitals to become director of innovation at Boots, described the situation as “excruciating”. Basic innovations commonly used by businesses, such as cloud technology or single sign-in systems, are passed up because funds are often diverted to “fighting today’s crisis”, he said.

Cloud services are considered crucial for improving sharing patient records, currently considered one of the biggest blocks to improving efficiency in the health service. Meanwhile doctors commonly grapple with up to a dozen different passwords for various hospital systems.

Until cash for IT is ring-fenced hospital bosses will continue diverting it towards more “visible” concerns, such as extra beds, Mr Corbridge said.

“The ideas are there, the intention is there, but without money to deliver innovation we’re stuck in a state of paralysis, unable to ease the burden for NHS staff who continue to battle against the problems caused by an ageing population, years of chronic underfunding and a staffing crisis that amounts to over 100,000 vacant posts.”

He said campaigns abolishing the use of fax and pagers have been “enforced by centrally imposed deadlines, without consultation, additional funding or resource”.

A recent study by the Taxpayers Alliance found that one tenth of the NHS budget - roughly £12.5 billion - could be saved by the introduction of “automation” across the health service. These included innovations such as the use of AI to analyse emergency calls, which some argue can react to life-threatening situations more quickly, as well as online GP booking.

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